The special counsel inquiry into Russian efforts to meddle in the U.S. election faces its first courtroom test today at the trial of a former Trump campaign chief accused of bank and tax fraud. At least five of the witnesses listed are testifying after receiving immunity. The 35 names include former accountants, assistants and even friends. And they won't learn that Manafort's co-defendant in the Washington case is a business associate named Konstantin Kilimnik, who lives in Russia and who USA authorities assert has connections to Russian intelligence.
If Manafort is acquitted, "it will benefit President Trump tremendously, because it will cast into doubt all of the legitimacy of the process that is occurring", said Joshua Dressler, a professor of criminal law and criminal procedure at Ohio State University.
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One year ago to the month, federal agents barged into Manafort's Alexandria, Virginia, apartment under a search warrant. It was argued that Mueller was out of bounds in prosecuting Manafort as part of the Russia Investigation. Giuliani said he and Jay Sekulow, another Trump lawyer, had told the president: "This would be a very bad thing to do now". Mueller ramped up the pressure with additional charges against Manafort and Gates, in Virginia, on Feb 22. While scrutiny of the Ukraine dealings pushed the one-time campaign chairman out, Gates stayed on, serving as a liaison to the Republican National Committee, while earning the reputation of a competent executor of the Trump team's day-to-day operations. He has questioned how the indictment of Paul Manafort on financial charges relates to Mueller's investigation on alleged 2016 Russian election interference. Prosecutors plan to present evidence that a chairman of one of the banks allowed Manafort to file inaccurate loan information in exchange for a job on the campaign and the promise of a job in the Trump administration. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
The luxurious lifestyle was funded by Manafort's political consulting for the pro-Russian Ukrainian political party of Viktor Yanukovych, who was deposed as Ukraine's president in 2014.
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Over the next three weeks a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, is expected to hear descriptions of his lavish lifestyle and Cypriot shell companies, his ties with Ukrainian oligarchs, and allegedly fraudulent property deals created to deceive the U.S. tax authorities.
Mueller's team has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 people and three companies, including the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officials.
Manafort has spent the past month in prison in Alexandria outside Washington after having his house arrest and $10 million bail revoked by a federal judge for allegedly tampering with witnesses in another pending case.
Trump has repeatedly denounced the special counsel's investigation as a politically motivated "witch hunt" and denied there was any collusion with Moscow to defeat Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Veteran criminal defense attorney Shanlon Wu, who is also not associated with the Manafort defense team, tells ABC that in his opinion the government's strategy is more focused at this point on avoiding any do-overs. Mueller's original mandate was to investigate not only potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian Federation, but also any other crimes arising from the probe.